Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets have come through Leg 2 of the Rally Catalunya unscathed and their Xsara WRCs continue to monopolise the top two places this evening. They are joined on the provisional podium by the ...
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets have come through Leg 2 of the Rally Catalunya unscathed and their Xsara WRCs continue to monopolise the top two places this evening. They are joined on the provisional podium by the privately-entered Xsara of Xevi Pons who moved up a notch when Mikko Hirvonen took a 20-second penalty for lateness out of service tonight. It is a fitting reward for the young Spaniard who has put in a superb run and posted some first class times with his Team Kronos Racing-run car.
"When you are this close to your objective, you have no right to fail. It might look easy, but we will need to stay as vigilant and as focused as ever," warned Guy Frequelin before the start. This necessity not to ease off at the last moment is perfectly understood by everyone in the Versailles-Satory squad and, even this close to clinching a third consecutive Manufacturers' title, absolutely nothing has changed in the team's habitually rigorous approach.
The start of today's action was delayed following the neutralisation of the opening test (El Lloar/La Figuera, SS7) when some members of the huge crowd packed into the 20km test were considered to be standing in an unsafe place. After the first five cars had been through, the following drivers were instructed to cover the stage as a road section and nominal times were awarded.
The day began in earnest therefore at 10:18 a.m. when SS8 (Capafonts) kicked off 12 minutes late. "It's not really a stage I like," explained Sebastien. "There a are a lot of big steps on the insides of corners, so I took it carefully." Said Francois Duval: "The conditions were damp but the fog reported earlier by the safety crews had disappeared by the time we started. Our choice of soft compound tyres was the right option."
The day's second loop featured Colldejou (SS9), which crews had already tackled the previous day in the reverse direction, and Riudecanyes (SS10). Thanks to another judicious tyre choice in the Michelin range, the Citroen pair collected two further stage one-twos. "No problems," said Seb back at the Port Aventura service park. "We just had to take things very carefully because of the incessant changes of grip. Running fifteenth on the road, the surface was very dirty." Francois added: "Even running at 90% didn't prevent the odd scare. You had to be on your toes all the time. It was so easy to be caught out..."
The leg ended with a second attempt at the morning's loop and the two Xsaras added a further one-two to their record in SS11, the repeat of the stage that had earlier been neutralised. At this evening's service halt, there was a palpable sense of satisfaction: "There are still 68 km of stages to go, and we've already done them once," commented Seb. "But before being certain of scoring a possible tenth win, there are still some potentially difficult tyre choices to make and hazards to avoid... Yesterday, we had our biggest scare of the year. Remembering that will force us to stay on our guard..."
Francois Duval's analysis followed similar lines: "The conditions weren't easy. Tomorrow I will no doubt lift a little to make sure we score this fantastic result for Citroen." There is no question, on the other hand, of Xevi Pons slowing at all. He will be looking to defend his position on the podium, but his closest chaser is just 7.7s behind...